The Netflix series “Orange is the New Black,” a dark comedy about women in prison, was last year’s surprise breakout hit.
The show was as popular as it was groundbreaking, with a mostly minority cast that features at least six Latinas.
Four Latina cast members sat down with Fox News Latino to chat about how their newfound stardom has changed life the past year and the show’s upcoming season.
Can you tell us what life was like before landing your roles for “Orange is the New Black?”
Selenis Leyva: … I was a working actress trying to make ends meet in New York City. I was that dreamer that dreamed of walking into rooms that I walk in now. Because of my faith, I always felt that it was going to happen. Now I am no longer dreaming it but living it and I take not a second for granted.
Dascha Pollanco: I was a manager of an operating room in a hospital. I worked and was earning a bachelor degree at the same time. I wasn’t happy within myself. Yes, I was working but I wasn’t fulfilled. It wasn’t about the job but about purpose. Now I am doing what I am supposed to do. I can do a 14-hour day on set without a problem because it is my passion.
Jackie Cruz: I was focused. I attended classes to strengthen and perfect my craft. I was also a waitress. I did what I needed to make it happen. I didn’t give up. When the opportunity came from “Orange is the New Black,” I felt prepared.
Jessica Pimentel: I believe that I am the same person. My family, friends and spiritual life are just as important to me, if not more as what they were before the show. I have the same routine. I don’t believe that success should change who you are. This is such a wonderful blessing.
How has life changed for all of you since the success of the show?
Selenis: Oh wow! There has been a lot of love and a lot of recognition! People recognized me from my appearance on an episode of Girls, but “Orange” is more crazy. It startles me at times to have so many people give such beautiful comments. There has been a lot of love!
Dascha: It has not set in yet. There is so much love, many compliments and support from strangers. The recognition from the fans means so much to me because it validates my work as an actor. The success has allowed me to have more auditions. I have been in places with people that I have admired. It has not settled for me yet. I feel chosen, blessed and extremely grateful.
Jackie: Wow! A lot has changed. I knew that the show was a big deal but I have been so surprised by the support and success. I have been working on my acting and singing since I was 16. “Orange” is the big break that I have been looking for. This has been really amazing!
Jessica: Wow! The caliber of people that I get to work with has been amazing. I have admired these actresses and directors for so long. When people recognize me from the show, it truly helps me to see how much the lives of people have been affected by the work on the show.
Why do you believe there is so much interest in this Latina cast?
Dascha: Because we are all so different. The diversity that we represent is becoming the face of America. This is the first time that there are six Latinas in a hit show. The show is very real and deals with real issues. I am not a size two and people say that I am sexy. We are exposing different forms of beauty. We are breaking away from the traditional norms.
Selenis: This has never been done. It is not about how sexy we are. There is no hiding behind makeup. We are raw and beautiful at the same time. People tune in to see these beautifully flawed women who are all so different, yet everyone matters. We want to see a little flaw.
Jessica, your character, Maria, suffered a great loss. Where did you have to go in your mind to relay that type of pain with no words?
Jessica: I have compassion. Although I have not suffered a loss like Maria, I know what it is to lose people that I love. I put myself in her situation. “What would I do if it were me?” I had to question if my only hope was the child, the one thing that provided hope and that was taken away, what is the purpose of life?
Dascha, how would you like to see the relationship between Daya and her mother change?
Dascha: I would like for it to be realistic. This is a woman who has been this way all of her life. I would like to see Daya accept her mother but become Daya outside of her mother. I want to see her move forward and make better choices. She is naïve and lives in a fantasy. She is in jail because she committed a crime. I would like to see her more mature, more realistic.
La Flaca is tough and feisty. Jackie how close is she to your personality?
Jackie: I say that she is my alter ego. She is very blunt. She says what is on her mind. She has no filter. I keep it all inside.
Do we get a more intimate look at La Flaca in Season 2?
Jackie: All I can say is keep watching! [Laughs]You will be surprised and love it. You will experience all of your emotions in one episode.
Selenis, how would you like to see Gloria evolve in the next season?
Selenis: What I would like to see happen, happens in season 2. When reading the first episode, I cried. I had to put it down and come back. The writers develop a beautiful voice for her. Her survival, her toughness will speak to a lot of women. Her story is one that many women will relate to. Season 2 you really get to meet a lot of new characters and you will be surprised at the situations the characters get themselves into.
Can you all clearly define the importance of what it is to be a Latina actress at this time?
Jessica: First, I see myself as an actress. This show has brought to light that we are not a specific color or look. It has exposed a wider variety of what we can be. We are very capable of the traditional roles that we are given. There is a lot more depth to us.
Jackie: It is amazing to be on a show with (six) different Latinas of different shapes, colors, sizes and personalities. I feel that “Orange” has opened new doors for the Latin community.
Dascha: I feel as a Latina actress I do not want to become a stereotype. I need to work on my craft, become better and get more work!
Selenis: We are still not in the clear. We have to continue to push the door. The fact that that it is such a big deal that there are six Latina’s on a hit show is an indicator that we still have so much more work to do. It shows that there is a lack of us in mainstream media and Hollywood. We can’t sit around and complain. We must be smart and knowledgeable. We must be prepared and supportive of one another.